Understanding Linkages Between Ecosystem Services and Human
Provisioning Services: These are the tangible goods that ecosystems provide, such as food, water, raw materials (e.g., timber, fiber), and medicinal plants. These services are directly consumed or used by humans for their daily needs.
Regulating Services: Ecosystems play a vital role in regulating natural processes and maintaining a stable environment. Examples include pollination of crops by insects, regulation of climate through carbon sequestration, regulation of water quality through filtration, and control of pests and diseases through natural predation.
Supporting Services: These services underpin the other three categories by providing the necessary ecological processes. Examples include nutrient cycling, soil formation, and habitat creation, which support the overall functioning of ecosystems.
Cultural Services: Ecosystems also offer intangible benefits that contribute to cultural, recreational, and spiritual aspects of human life. These services encompass activities like tourism, outdoor recreation, aesthetic enjoyment, and cultural practices linked to natural landscapes.
The linkages between ecosystem services and humans are multifaceted and interdependent:
Direct Dependence: Many communities directly rely on ecosystem services for their livelihoods and survival. For instance, fishing communities depend on marine ecosystems for their main source of income and sustenance.
Indirect Dependence: Even in urban areas, where direct reliance on natural resources might seem less obvious, ecosystem services still play a critical role. Trees and vegetation in cities provide shade, air purification, and aesthetic value, enhancing the overall quality of life.
Health and Well-being: Ecosystem services contribute to human health and well-being. Access to green spaces has been linked to reduced stress, improved mental health, and increased physical activity.
Economic Value: Many ecosystem services have economic value that can be quantified. For example, the value of pollination provided by bees to global agriculture is estimated to be in the billions of dollars annually.
Trade-offs and Synergies: The interactions between different ecosystem services can lead to trade-offs or synergies. For instance, the conversion of a forested area to agricultural land might increase provisioning services but reduce regulating services like water purification.
Sustainability: Understanding the connection between humans and ecosystems is crucial for promoting sustainable development. Overexploitation of ecosystem services without proper management can lead to degradation, affecting future generations’ well-being.
Policy and Management: Governments, policymakers, and conservation organizations utilize the knowledge of ecosystem service linkages to develop effective strategies for resource management, conservation, and restoration.
In summary, recognizing the intricate linkages between ecosystem services and humans underscores the importance of conserving and managing ecosystems sustainably for the benefit of both current and future generations.
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Most Important Ecosystem Services and Human
Poverty in Canada, as everywhere in the world, is a multi-dimensional issue. It is characterized by a serious lack of material well-being; food, housing, land and other assets lead to physical deprivation and a loss of psychological wellbeing. In addition, poverty, by its very nature, leads to a lack of power and access, making it difficult to have your views heard in various spheres of decision-making. Poverty also leads to a violation of social norms and an inability to maintain a cultural identity through participating in traditions, festivals and rituals (Fields, 1980). Many elements of poverty are closely tied to the status of the surrounding ecosystems and the quality of accessible ecosystem services.
In Canada, this is especially true in the context of remote First Nations communities and their traditional livelihoods.
Here, community well-being often depends on ecosystem services such as:
• Food acquired by hunting
• Clean water
• Stable terrain for housing
• Medicinal plants
• Cultural values that communities have placed on the ecosystems
Additionally, remote communities often rely in large measure on their immediate environment as a source of income in the form of timber, fish, fur and non-timber forest products. While such communities are dependent on the provisioning services provided by ecosystems, the regulating, supporting and cultural services provided by ecosystems also play a vital role in sustaining human well-being.
Unfortunately, recognition of the links between ecosystem and well-being has not yet penetrated public policy or regional planning to the degree that it can make a difference in the overall outcome. Typically, what results are lessthan-optimal land-use and resource-use decisions. Often, responses rely on remedial measures, like repairing damage caused by flooding, or on regulation, which attempts to dictate certain patterns of land use. What is needed to improve this undesirable situation is a careful evaluation of the links between ecosystems and well-being of people to guide policy development and community and regional planning.
This paper provides a review of literature on the linkages between ecosystem services and human well-being, including their assessment and related policy development. The paper concludes with key insights for studies aiming to understand and assist in policy development for communities, whose well-being is strongly dependent on the status of the surrounding ecosystems and their services.
Understanding Linkages Between Ecosystem Services and Human Well-Being
Human well-being is vitally dependent upon improving the management of Earth’s ecosystems to ensure their conservation and sustainable use (United Nations Environmental Programme [UNEP], 2009a; Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD], 2006, p. 7). Intact, functioning ecosystems provide services—such as the provision of food, water, fuel and fibre, and climate regulation—on which nations and people rely to earn income from agriculture, fishing, forestry, tourism and other activities (for details see Box 1). Sustainable use of these ecosystem services and natural resource assets is increasingly recognized as a key factor in enduring economic development and improvement in human welfare, and as a necessary condition for achieving the Millennium Development Goals (UNEP, 2009b). Well-functioning ecosystems are even more crucial to those poor communities whose well-being (and thus
often their poverty) is directly tied to the provision of ecosystem services.
Poverty is a widespread phenomenon throughout the world, and the poor in Canada have much in common with the poor elsewhere. Poverty is a multidimensional social phenomenon, which can be defined by a lack of material wellbeing, especially food, housing, land and other assets, leading to physical deprivation and a consequent reduction in psychological well-being. But poverty also typically leads to the lack of power to actively express views in various spheres of decision-making, a weakening of social norms and an inability to maintain a cultural identity through participating in traditions, festivals and rituals (Fields, 1980). Many elements of poverty can be closely linked to the status of the surrounding ecosystems and the quality and accessibility of these services. Linkages between poverty and the environment can be conceptualized in many ways, notably in terms of their relationship to livelihoods, and their resilience in the face of environmental risks, health and economic development. In this paper, we focus on these key linkages as defined by UNEP (2009a):
• Livelihoods: Ecosystems provide services on which poor communities rely disproportionately for their wellbeing and basic needs. These communities also depend on the environment to earn incomes in sectors such as agriculture, fishing, forestry and tourism, through both formal and informal markets. Livelihoods can be sustainable or not, depending on the way the environment is managed.
Resilience in the face of environmental risks: Poor people are more vulnerable to natural disasters and environmental shocks that threaten their livelihoods and undermine food security. Improving the ways in which environmental resources such as forests are managed increases the resilience of poor people and their livelihoods when facing environmental risks.
• Health: Environmental conditions account for a significant portion of health risks to poor people. Environmental risk factors, such as occupational exposures to chemicals and indoor air pollution from household solid fuel use, play a role in more than 80 per cent of the diseases regularly reported by the World Health Organization.
• Economic development: Environmental quality contributes directly and indirectly to economic development and employment. These contributions are particularly important in developing countries in such sectors as agriculture, energy, forestry, fisheries and tourism.
Poverty-environment linkages are dynamic and context-specific, reflecting geographic location, scale and the economic, social and cultural characteristics of individuals, households and social groups. We follow the characterization of poverty-environment linkages previously suggested, which focuses on their two main dimensions: accessibility and vulnerability. By including vulnerability in our definition set, we are able to capture a large proportion of people who can be easily pushed into poverty when the natural resource sector they depend on for basic needs is being degraded due to climate change and/or other drivers. We also include accessibility to reflect those people who depend on a sustainable flow of natural resources, and the mere fact that if access is taken away by natural, institutional or other drivers, these people would be forced into poverty (Duraiappah, 1996).
The recognition of ecosystem-poverty linkages has not yet effectively penetrated public policy and regional planning, typically resulting in socially sub-optimal land-use and resource-use decisions. Furthermore, in the context of a poor and degraded natural resource base and a situation with few livelihood development alternatives, the studies indicate that the implementation of policies, including environmental protection measures, can actually increase poverty (Liu, et al., 2008; Magis, 2007). Policies are seldom inappropriate for the sector problems they seek to address, but secondary, unforeseen impacts have repercussions across many livelihood dimensions that are interlinked (Ledogar & Fleming, 2008; Larocque & Nöel, 2009). The closure of lands for forestry regeneration, for example, can close off opportunities for livestock grazing for villagers. Frequent shifts in policy can both cause and exacerbate poverty too; communities might have no opportunity to adopt a long-term strategy for resource management, and policy often shifts between poverty reduction and environmental protection, without developing integrated solutions to facilitate both (United Nations Development Program [UNDP] 2009a; UNDP-UNEP Poverty-Environment Initiative Uganda, 2007).
The following frameworks focused on the assessment of the linkages between ecosystem services and human wellbeing and policy development are explored in this review:
• Millennium Ecosystem Assessment
• Mainstreaming poverty-environment linkages into development planning
• Ecosystem-based policy development in poor areas
Frameworks for Understanding Linkages Between the Environment and
The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment
A comprehensive approach to the exploration of linkages between environment and poverty is presented by the
Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA) conceptual framework (MEA, 2003). The MEA describes the linkages as
Ecosystem services are the benefits people obtain from ecosystems. These include provisioning, regulating, and cultural services, which directly affect people, and supporting services needed to maintain the other services. Changes in these services affect human well-being through impacts on security, the necessary material for a good life, health, and social and cultural relations. These constituents of well-being are in turn influenced by and have an influence on the freedoms and choices available to people. (MEA, 2003; see also Duraiappah, 2002) The MEA recognized that human well-being elements are “complex and value-laden,” but that some of elements are shared. The authors make specific reference to the results of the “voices of the poor” research (Narayan, et al., 2002). In this study, people in 23 countries were asked to “reflect, analyze, and express their ideas of the bad and the good life” (Narayan, et al., 2002). Among the results of this survey were the importance of secure and adequate livelihoods, cultural and spiritual activities and the ability to provide for their children. Among the five most comment elements, as cited in the MEA (2003), were the following:
1. The necessary material for a good life—including secure and adequate livelihoods, income and assets, enough food at all times, shelter, furniture, clothing and access to goods
2. Health—including being strong, feeling well and having a healthy physical environment
3. Good social relations—including social cohesion, mutual respect, good gender and family relations, and the ability to help others and provide for children
4. Security—including secure access to natural and other resources, safety of person and possessions, and living in a predictable and controllable environment with security from natural and human-made disasters
5. Freedom and choice—including having control over what happens and being able to achieve what a person values doing or being
The MEA further elaborates on the aspects of human well-being by describing six categories of “freedom.” These include participative freedom, economic facilities, social opportunities, transparency guarantees, protective security and ecological security. The sixth freedom, ecological security, is the contribution from the MEA analysis and is defined as “the minimum level of ecological stock (an ecological safety net), defined by respective communities through an open and participatory process, that is required to provide the supporting services needed to ensure a sustainable flow of provisioning, regulating, and cultural ecosystem services” (MEA, 2003).
Figure 1 illustrates these aspects of human well-being, along with the various ecosystem services upon which the
aspects depend. Among the different categories of ecosystem services are:
1. Provisioning services, such as food, water, timber, and fibre
2. Regulating services that affect climate, floods, disease, wastes and water quality
3. Cultural services that provide recreational, aesthetic and spiritual benefits
4. Supporting services for the above three services, including soil formation, photosynthesis and nutrient cycling
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